A Very American Thanksgiving Tradition
BY THE SAIS OBSERVER STAFF
In any country, holidays are an opportunity to see the pageantry of traditions and rituals that define a country’s culture. Thanksgiving is no different. On Thanksgiving, Americans gather with family and friends in order to give thanks: thanks for their support, thanks for their love, and thanks for the opportunities afforded to them. Whether around dinner tables or in front of the TV, Thanksgiving is an American tradition that pays homage to where we have been and how we have arrived to where we are. It is about humility and grace wrapped in the glow of love. Thanksgiving is the quintessence of American values.
This tradition also manifests itself in the highest office of the United States. On Thanksgiving, the President traditionally partakes in a particularly American tradition. In an act of grace and charity, the President dutifully grants an American turkey clemency in a tradition known as the Presidential Turkey Pardon. Although to outsiders it may seem like unusual tradition, it has however become a fabric of the Thanksgiving day itinerary, along with such staples as pumpkin pie, college football games, and Thanksgiving parades.
However, the pardoning of turkeys does not decorate the annals of American presidential tradition. On the contrary, it is a rather recent manifestation, but no less a hallmark of American values. The Turkey Presentation began in 1946 during President Harry Truman’s administration on the part of poultry interest groups – the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board. Unlike their modern counterparts, the turkeys of yesteryear did not receive the same leniency, and many found themselves as the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.
The tradition persisted and expanded throughout the years with the inclusion of the “pardon.” President John F. Kennedy was the first to take pity on the presented turkey in 1963. Rather than ending up on President Kennedy’s dinner table, the turkey was promptly returned to a farm in California. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan, mired in questions about the Iran-Contra Scandal and potential pardoning of aides, joked when cornered by the press that he would “pardon” the turkey. Upon arrival to the Oval Office, President George H.W. Bush finally formalized the annual clemency of the turkeys from potential capital punishment. Each year following, every turkey has been given a name as well as permitted an alternate (in case the second cannot fulfill its duties). During the ceremony, the turkey ceremoniously receives stays of execution and is graciously allowed to return to the farm from which they came.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, we take a look back this American Executive Tradition through this photo gallery. We wish all our SAIS Observer readers a Happy Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend as you celebrate with friends, family, and loved ones.